Texas grid takes emergency actions to avoid blackouts amid heatwave

Texas grid takes emergency actions to avoid blackouts amid heatwave

By Arpan Varghese and Scott DiSavino

(Reuters) - Texas's power grid operator on Wednesday took emergency measures to avoid rolling blackouts as soaring electricity demand threatened to outpace available supplies amid a stifling heatwave.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the grid that serves more than 26 million customers, initiated a rarely used emergency program that is triggered when supplies fall below a critical safety margin.

Earlier, ERCOT had urged residents to cut power use during the hottest hours of the day and warned of a risk for rolling blackouts. Residents were asked to turn up thermostats, defer the use of high-power appliances and turn off swimming pool pumps.

The emergency notice came after ERCOT began paying suppliers an average of $5,000 per magawatt hour to keep generators running. That price is the highest the grid operator pays.

"They were pulling a lot of levers to avoid going into emergency operations and rolling blackouts," said Doug Lewin, president of consultants Stoic Energy LLC.

With temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), higher than the average for this time of the year, the state had projected Wednesday's peak demand to hit 78,762 megawatts.

ERCOT blamed forced outages at coal- and natural gas-fed power plants, and low wind power generation. A spokesperson declined to provide details on the number or type of generating plants that were offline and prompted conservation measures.

Stoic's Lewin said there was less coal and natural gas generation capacity available on Wednesday than on Monday when ERCOT last called for conservation measures.

It was the third time this year that ERCOT has called on residents to cut power usage and the second time it has warned of the potential for rolling blackouts. As on Monday, it avoided forced cuts when big power consumers agreed to halt operations.

Lee Bratcher, president of Texas Blockchain Council, said all of the state's large-scale Bitcoin mining operations, which consume about 1,000 megawatts, are currently offline because of ERCOT's call for conservation and high power prices.

A spokesperson for LyondellBasell said the petrochemical maker's Texas operations worked on ways "to reduce electricity demand without shutting down assets or compromising the safety and reliability of our operations."

In February 2021, a grid failure led to the deaths of more than 200 people in freezing weather and prompted an overhaul of the grid regulator.

In Houston, the biggest city in Texas, temperatures hit 101 F (38C) on Wednesday and highs are expected to remain above 97 F into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

GRAPHIC: Texas power demand to soar to record high this year (https://graphics.reuters.com/TEXAS-POWER/ERCOT/gkplgzymyvb/chart.png)

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Scott DiSavino; additional reporting by Laila Kearney and Erwin Seba; Writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Himani Sarkar)